Protein is important to our health, our workouts and recovery, and our brain function; without it, we wouldn’t function at our best and our bodies wouldn’t be able to support us long-term. However, the problem with the view of protein in our country is where we’re getting the majority of our protein from: animals. Regardless of different opinions out there about including meat as a part of our regular diets, we can’t ignore the fact that meat consumption is causing our major environmental, health, and humanitarian problems. When you put all the pieces together, it is stime we start looking for a real sustainable alternative. Say hello to plants!
The Myth About Protein in a Plant-Based Diet
There used to be a myth that we needed to consume different types of foods to form “complete proteins” in the body. While this shouldn’t necessarily be ignored completely, it’s also not as important as we once thought. There are plenty of complete sources of plant-based protein that we can eat. Our bodies can also make complete proteins when we eat a variety of higher protein foods, even if those foods aren’t necessarily eaten together (such as rice and beans, a classic example of protein pairings). One struggle, however, is that many people aren’t sure how to replace the meat on their plate with a plant-based protein they’ll love and enjoy as much as meat. So, the simple thing is to quit focusing on just what our plates look like at dinner.
How to Rethink Protein Once and For All
Get rid of the picture of a dinner dish in your mind that shows a piece of meat, veggies, and a whole grain. While there’s nothing particularly wrong with eating protein at a meal, it’s also not mandatory for getting what you need. You can incorporate protein all throughout the day on a plant-based diet, especially in snacks, where it’s most often overlooked, without really needing a massive source at every meal. You can also eat foods that contain smaller amounts of protein at each meal that the body can use efficiently to form proteins on its own, even if these foods aren’t as high as the proteins in meat. Remember, the body can only use so much protein at one time anyway. What it can’t digest the rest of during a meal can go to waste and even be harmful to the body. A little here and there throughout the day (especially focusing on protein at breakfast to regulate blood sugar) is ultimately best.
Try these 25 plant-based proteins and see just how satisfying they really can be!
Lentils are a protein favorite of many, especially those on vegetarian and vegan diets looking to pump up the protein fast. Lentils add 9 grams of protein to your meal per half cup, along with nearly 15 grams of fiber! See our lentil recipes here for tasty ways to use these little meaty legumes!
What used to be seen as a boring vegan protein source has now been transformed into everything from breakfast to entrees, and yes, even desserts too. This protein source’s main attractive nature is that it can be flavored however you want and adds a rich, creamy texture or chewy texture to your food depending on if you buy firm or soft tofu. See our tasty tofu recipes to add a whopping 10 grams of protein (check labels) per cup of chopped tofu.
2. Black Beans
Black beans are one of the richest sources of antioxidants and one of the healthiest beans of all beans and legumes. Their dark color indicates their strong antioxidant content and they also have less starch than some other beans. One favorite way to enjoy them is to make black bean burritos, but that’s not the only way to use them. Try these delicious black bean recipes to add 8 grams of protein per 1/2 cup of these beans to your plate.
With 8 grams per cup, this gluten-free seed-like grain is a fantastic source of protein, magnesium, antioxidants, and fiber. You can cook it, bake it, and even stir into stir-fry dishes and more. Check out our quinoa recipes here for all types of ways to use this healthy pseudo-grain!
Amaranth is similar to quinoa and teff in its nutritional content, though much tinier in size. This ancient pseudo-grain (also a seed) adds 7 grams of protein to your meals in just one cup of cooked amaranth. It’s also a fantastic source of iron, B vitamins, and magnesium. Try it in these yummy burgers that pair amaranth with lentil and all types of different spices.
5. Soy Milk
Love soy or hate soy, it’s actually the controversial little legume, isn’t it? Soy milk, if bought organic, can be a part of a healthy diet. There is conflicting research regarding its effects on cancer, but many studies show it can help actually prevent cancer rather than causes it (unlike meat). The key is to buy non-GMO soy and not to buy it in the form of highly processed soy protein isolates. Try soy milk, which packs 8 grams of protein in just one cup, offers 4 grams of heart-healthy fats, and is rich in phytosterols that assist with good heart health. Buy organic, unsweetened as the healthiest option. Look at all these delicious ways to use it!
6. Green Peas
Packed with protein and fiber, peas are so yummy! They contain 8 grams of protein per cup, so add a little of these sweet treats throughout the day. Bonus … peas are also rich in leucine, an amino acid crucial to metabolism and weight loss that’s hard to find in most plant-based foods. Pea recipes for the win!
Containing 4 grams of protein in just 1/2 cup, artichoke hearts are a great way to boost fiber, protein, and they are filling but low in calories. See some tips for cooking with them here!
8. Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds are a complete protein that are hard NOT to love. Packing 13 grams in just 3 tablespoons, these tiny seeds are easy to add anywhere. See our favorite recipes ideas here.
Oatmeal has three times the protein of brown rice with less starch and more fiber. It’s also a great source of magnesium, calcium, and B vitamins. See Why Every Athlete Needs Oats here and our favorite oatmeal recipes too.
10. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are one of the most overlooked sources of iron and protein out there, containing 8 gram of protein per 1/4 cup. They’re also an excellent source of magnesium as well, not to mention pretty tasty and oh so crunchy! See more benefits of these seeds here and some ways you can use them more often.
11. Chia Seeds
Chia, chia, chia … what can’t this super seed do? Chia has 5 grams of protein per 2 tablespoons and is also a complete protein source. Try it all kinds of ways besides just chia pudding in our chia recipes!
Tempeh is a fermented form of soy that’s high in protein, easy to digest, and rich in probiotics. A favorite among many people, it’s a meaty ingredients you should at least try. Tempeh it up with these protein-rich recipes for 12 grams per cup!
13. Hemp Milk
Hemp milk is becoming more and more popular just like other plant-based milks. You can make your own at home or try buying it at the store. Hemp milk packs 5 grams in one cup. You can make your own by blending 1/4 cup hemp seeds with 2 cups of water, straining, and using like you would almond milk. You don’t have to soak hemp seeds like you do almonds, and can adjust the ratio of seeds to water depending on how rich and creamy you’d like your milk.
Filled with antioxidants and fiber, not to mention protein, edamame is the young green soybean and so delicious! It’s filled with a nutty sweetness and packs in 8.5 grams of protein in just 1/2 cup. Add to salads, soups, burgers, soba noodles, and more. You can even snack on it raw and roast it like chickpeas for a crunchy snack.
Filled with 5 grams of protein per cup, spinach is a great leafy green to enjoy as much as you can. We don’t have to tell you how to use it though … we’re sure you’re already loving this green plenty. Just in case, here are some recipes you might not have tried yet.
16. Black Eyed Peas
Black eyed peas might seem boring, but they pack 8 grams of protein in just 1/2 cup. Like most other beans, they’re also a great source of iron, magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins. You can use them in soup or anywhere else you’d normally use beans. Their mild and nutty flavor makes a great hearty dinner!
This lovely veggie contains 4 grams of protein in just 1 cup, which isn’t too bad considering that same cup also contains 30 percent of your daily calcium needs, along with vitamin C, fiber, and B vitamins for only 30 calories. Let us count the ways we use broccoli!
Filled with 4 grams per cup (about 4-6 stalks, chopped), asparagus is also a great source of B vitamins and folate. We love it so much, we just can’t stop using it in all kinds of ways!
19. Green Beans
Green beans pack 4 grams of protein in just 1/2 cup, along with vitamin B6, and they’re low in carbs but high in fiber. See all our green bean recipes here!
Almonds have 7 grams per cup of fresh nuts or in 2 tablespoons of almond butter. And what’s not to love about this healthy nut? Here’s how to make your own almond butter, and some tasty ways to use almonds here.
This blue green algae may look a bit scary to newbies, but it’s so easy to use, especially if you add it to a smoothie with other ingredients like berries, cacao, or some banana. Spirulina adds 80 percent of your daily iron needs and 4 grams of protein in one tablespoon; it’s also a complete amino acid source … who knew!? See some other ways spirulina does the body good!
This yummy spread that can be used anywhere nut butters can is just filled with filling protein. Containing 8 grams in two tablespoons, tahini is also a fantastic source of iron and B vitamins, along with magnesium and potassium. See Why Every Green Monster Needs Tahini in Their Life for all types of ways to use it.
23. Nutritional Yeast
Who knew this cheesy ingredient was packed with so much nutrition? Nutritional yeast contains 8 grams of protein in just 2 tablespoons! Here are 10 tasty ways to use it for all kinds of helpful tips and tricks.
Not just for hummus, a 1/2 cup of chickpeas will also give you a nice dose of protein (6-8 grams depending on the brand). You can also use hummus, though note that it’s not as high in servings as chickpeas since it contains other ingredients. Try incorporating chickpeas into meals more often when you can … here are some tasty ideas to start!
25. Peanut Butter
A favorite pre-workout food of many, peanut butter is a classic American staple everyone loves. Thankfully, just 2 tablespoons also gives you 8 grams of pure, delicious protein too! Try these peanut butter recipes for all kinds of tasty way to use this healthy staple.